February 23, 2011

Talkin' tiki: Get away
without getting on a plane

Want to conjure some warmth? Grab Pacific-themed decorations, add lots of pineapple, soy sauce and rum. Throw in a few friends.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

"If you can't get to paradise, I'll bring it to you."

click image to enlarge

Tiki table decorations don't have to be expensive, and add color and the illusion of getting away from the winter. Besides, who's going to argue with that mask?

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

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THANK BETTY FOR THIS ONE

IF YOU'D LIKE the food to be as retro as the cocktails at your party, try these meatballs from the heydey of tikidom. The recipe is from 1971, and came from (drum roll, please) Betty Crocker. Don't turn your nose up. They were very popular at my party. Full disclosure: I used regular bread crumbs instead of cracker crumbs, and minced fresh ginger instead of dumping in the powdered stuff.

WAIKIKI MEATBALLS

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2/3 cup cracker crumbs

1/3 cup onion; minced

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon shortening

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 (14-ounce) can pineapple chunks in syrup, drained (reserve syrup)

1/3 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/3 cup green pepper, chopped

Mix meat, crumbs, onion, egg, salt, ginger and milk. Shape into balls.

Melt shortening; brown and cook meatballs. Remove meat and keep warm; remove fat.

Mix cornstarch and sugar. Stir in reserved pineapple syrup, vinegar and soy sauce until smooth. Cook, stirring, until boiling. Boil and stir 1 minute.

Add meatballs, pineapple and green pepper. Heat through.

THINK SUMMERY

THIS RECIPE, which I found on www.foodandwine.com, is light and summery, and is sure to make your taste buds think it's 85 degrees outside.

CHICKEN, MANGO AND RICE SALAD

1 1/2 cups rice, preferably short grain

1 1/3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4)

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

3/4 cup chopped red onion

1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 avocado, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 1/2 tablespoons lime juice (from about 2 limes)

3/4 cup chopped cilantro

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the rice until just done, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water. Drain thoroughly.

Coat the chicken with the 1 tablespoon oil. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan over moderate heat. Cook the breasts until just done, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Alternatively, heat the tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and season and cook the chicken as directed above. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into 1/2-inch dice.

Toss the rice with the chicken, onion, mango, avocado, the 1/3 cup oil, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the lime juice and cilantro.

MADE FROM LEFTOVERS

THIS DRINK was created in 1972 by "Tiki John" Ebert of the Holiday Isle Resort in the Florida Keys. At that time, according to Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, customers at the resort were allowed to mix their own drinks from whatever was left out on the bar. Ebert took the "leftovers" no one wanted and made the first Rum Runner. The drink became so popular it now has its own T-shirt at the resort, and has been copied by bars all over the country.

"For people who don't normally like rum drinks," Berry said, "it has a nice, fruity flavor, and it's not too rummy."

RUM RUNNER

1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice

7/8 ounce blackberry brandy

7/8 ounce creme de banana

5/8 ounce grenadine

3/4 ounce Bacardi 151 rum

Pour everything into a blender and fill blender 1/2 full with ice cubes. Blend until smooth. Pour into pint glass or large tiki mug.

-- Don the Beachcomber

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath.

Listen to the surf wash up gently on the white sand beach as the palm trees sway overhead.

Yes, I said palm trees. You're in my fantasy now.

This is where I go in my head in February when we've had umpteen million snowstorms and the temperatures slide into the single digits for days on end. I transport myself mentally to the beaches of Hawaii or some other tropical paradise and imagine sipping on a mai tai while the sun bakes my bare white skin.

Want to bring more life to this imaginary paradise? Do what I did a few weeks ago (in the middle of a snowstorm, no less) and throw a tiki party. Grab as many kitschy tiki decorations as you can, find some little paper umbrellas, make food that has pineapple chunks and soy sauce in it, stock up on rum, and hey -- what else do you need to get you through 'til spring?

I've always had a fascination with tiki culture. My parents live not far from the Omni Hut, a "PolyAsian" restaurant established in 1960 outside Nashville that is filled with classic tiki decor and serves to-die-for Polynesian Pit Ribs. I regularly scan eBay for funky tiki items, though I rarely actually buy something. And oh, all right, I'll confess: I listen to Hawaiian music, a new interest I picked up when I visited the islands a few years ago.

Tiki culture in America had its beginnings in the 1930s and '40s as pure escapism then really took off after World War II, when soldiers returned home with their juicy tales of the South Pacific.

It fizzled out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There have been a couple of small revivals since then, but many people still associate the word "tiki" with tacky, thatched-hut decor and fruity, sugary drinks.

I've always wanted to throw a tiki party, but was worried my friends would think I was weird. Well, guess what? Tiki culture is making a big comeback. Tiki bars and restaurants are reclaiming the Big Apple, the New York Times noted in September, in the form of "modern tropical" places like the Hurricane Club and Lani Kai. San Francisco and London are rediscovering tiki too.

The current tiki revival is "bigger than I could have possibly imagined," said Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, author of five books on vintage tiki drinks and cuisine, and creator of a tiki drink app for the iPhone.

"It was an underground thing for many, many years," Berry said, "and then it sort of bubbled up (in California) around 2008. And it has since spread to London, where there are big, multimillion-dollar tiki bars that the royal family go to, and Madonna and Paris Hilton.

"It's just this incredibly big deal now. There's this place called the Mahiki where Prince Charles dropped, like, 12,000 pounds in one night or something. It's just insane. And it's hit New York in a big way this year."

Hey, if it's good enough for the future king of England, I suppose it's good enough for me. So when a co-worker announced she was leaving for another job, a friend and I offered to host a going-away party for her.

It was not the tiki party of my dreams because 1) we only had a few days to plan it, and 2) we held the party at my friend's house, so I couldn't exactly go really crazy. No tiki torches, no live hula girls or fire-twirling Polynesian dancers.

(Continued on page 2)

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